Knowing how to fall asleep fast is a game-changer if you lie awake tossing and turning for hours on end. Here, we share 11 speedy sleep techniques that will have you snoozing in no time.
We've all found ourselves lying awake in the middle of the night, watching the clock slowly ticking closer to our wake-up time, frustrated that we just can't drift off. With an estimated 50% of people missing out on shut-eye during the night, you're certainly not alone. And while there are many factors that play into how quickly you can get to sleep, high stress levels and a poor sleep environment are the main two that wreak havoc on the body before bedtime.
But fear not, from the best pillows to natural cures for insomnia, our experts are on hand with quick fixes for how to fall asleep fast right now and longer-term solutions for better snoozing in the future.
How to fall asleep fast if you struggle to nod off
Forget counting sheep. If you’re struggling to drift off, here are six ways to speed up your bedtime wind down and catch those all-important Zzzs.
1. Have a hot shower
Winding down from the day with a hot shower one to two hours before you get into bed is a great way to improve your evening routine, says Resilient Nutrition (opens in new tab)'s chief science officer Dr Greg Potter.
It might be tempting to forgo creating the best bedtime routine in favor of getting into bed a little earlier but having a shower, with all the extra aromatherapy benefits of steam and shower gel, does wonders for relaxing the body and getting your mind tuned in for sleep.
Stick to a temperature of about 40 degrees Celsius for about 10 to 15 minutes for the best results, he advises, as "this will raise your skin temperature, which, counterintuitively, will then speed the rate at which your core temperature drops, leading you to nod off faster and into higher quality sleep."
2. Put away any electronic devices
Whether you're looking for how to fall asleep fast or just looking for how to sleep better more generally, the first thing you should do is put away your phone or tablet, and turn off the television.
There are two important factors involved in how well we sleep: our levels of melatonin production, a hormone that's essential for sleep, and the stability of our circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle that's part of the body's internal clock.
While any kind of light is disruptive, technological light–which includes powerful blue light–is particularly damaging to a good night's sleep as it suppresses the secretion of the hormone melatonin and shifts our circadian rhythm around. In one study, researchers from Harvard University (opens in new tab) compared the effects of six and a half hours of blue light exposure to green light, a different hue, on melatonin production. They discovered that blue light quashed melatonin levels for about twice as long as the green light and disrupted circadian rhythms by as much as three hours.
So replying to messages, scrolling on Facebook or flicking through emails before you go to sleep could have you staying up for hours past the time when you want to go to sleep.
"Smartphones expose you to alerting light and their content is also often mentally stimulating. It's easy to lose track of time when using them too," Dr Potter says. "Turn off your smartphone at least 30 minutes before bed."
3. Turn down overhead lights
It's not just light from technology that disrupts melatonin production and our circadian rhythm. Having a bright sleep environment, complete with a powerful overhead light, will produce the same negative effects and it's going to prevent you falling asleep quickly.
"Your sleep environment is very important for helping you fall and stay asleep," explains James Wilson (opens in new tab), sleep expert and co-founder of BeingWell. "We've all experienced the struggle of trying to kip somewhere that's noisy, too hot, uncomfortable or brightly lit. Creating a pleasant environment which promotes sleep will help you feel drowsy and get to sleep easier."
But you don't have to settle down to sleep in darkness, Dr Potter says. You just have to reduce light exposure in the one to two hours before trying to go to sleep. This will also help if you're looking for how to wake up early, as you'll have better sleep throughout the night and be able to get out of bed in the morning.
"It's particularly important to reduce the intensity of overhead lighting, so dim these lights or turn them off and just use lamps at eye level or below during this time," says Wilson.
4. Have an early dinner
Experts have been urging us for generations to eat smaller meals at dinner, for help on everything from how to eat less to improving menopause symptoms. While the evidence isn't conclusive on the topic when it comes to sleep, chief scientist Dr Potter warns, "there is preliminary evidence that having an early dinner supports restorative sleep."
In a study by Florida State University (opens in new tab) looking at time-restricted eating, which typically entails elements of intermittent fasting where you restrict calorie intake to between 4 to 10 hours each day, researchers discovered that those who stopped eating earlier often slept better.
This is because the later dinner led to bigger blood sugar swings, a lower rate of fat burning and raised levels of cortisol during the night. A combination that naturally keeps us on edge and makes a blissful night's sleep harder to reach.
But it's not just when you eat your dinner that's important, Dr Potter stresses, it's the amount of food you eat. In a study of women by Salk Institute for Biological Studies (opens in new tab), researchers found that those who ate a bigger lunch and smaller dinner slept better than those who ate a smaller lunch and bigger dinner.
"Overall, having a modest and relatively early dinner seems to reduce activity in the fight or flight branch of the autonomic nervous system, and it's probably best to go to bed neither hungry nor full," Dr Potter says.
5. Cool down your bedroom
One of the reasons that many of us struggle to sleep during the sunnier months is because of rising temperatures. Whether it's because of natural heat or an overactive thermostat, turning down the temperature in your bedroom is a sure-fire way to make sure you get to sleep quicker.
"Try to keep your bedroom at a slightly lower temperature than the rest of your home," advises James. "Between 16 to 17 degrees Celsius is the official advice - but this is too prescriptive for me."
Find a cool temperature that suits you, as a chillier sleeping environment helps to drop your core temperature much in the same way that a warm shower before bed will, leading to an easy journey into sleep.
6. Exercise regularly
Going for a run, heading to the gym or completing the famous 12-3-30 workout during the day could be a key factor in how quickly you fall asleep at night.
"Exercise is terrific for sleep in general," explains Dr Potter. "Looking at all research done to date, exercise programmes lead to people sleeping more efficiently - i.e. spending a smaller proportion of time in bed awake. They also sleep slightly longer and this is true of different types of exercise, including endurance training and strength training."
For the best chance at a good night's rest, exercise earlier in the day and avoid any strenuous exercise at least three hours before you go to bed.
7. Body scan meditation for sleep
Taking some time out in bed to focus on the different areas of your body can help you discover where you are holding stress. It could be this stress that's stopping you from sleeping. The good news? You can do a body scan meditation while tucked up under the duvet.
First, give your body a quick mental once-over for any tension or feelings of discomfort. You’ll hopefully be much more relaxed and drift off afterwards. Ready to give it a try? Here's how to do a body scan mediation, accord to expert Neil Shah, from The Stress Management Society (opens in new tab).
How to carry out a body scan:
- Take a deep breath in—raise the shoulders towards the ears and hold them raised for a few seconds. You will be able to feel the tensions that may be accumulating on your shoulders. Then take a long, slow breath out and drop the shoulders down. Repeat this several times.
- Place the fingers of both hands at the base of your skull—apply slow, circular pressure from the base of the skull to the base of the neck.
- Now close your eyes and relax the muscles in the face—be aware of your eye muscles, your jaw, and your forehead. Place the fingers of both hands on each side of the temples and slowly massage in a circular motion. Repeat several times.
- Finish by cupping your hands over your eye—hold here for several seconds. This helps to release tension and tightness in the face.
8. ASMR for sleep
While smartphones and blue light are usually the first things sleep experts want to ban from the bedroom to improve your sleep hygiene, ASMR for sleep in the form of videos or audio could help you fall asleep faster.
ASMR works in a similar way to white noise for sleep. “ASMR stands for an autonomous sensory meridian response, which is a tingling sensation that originates from the back of the head and down the spine,” explains life coach Kev Scheepers (opens in new tab). “It is a relaxing, almost addictive sensation that can be triggered by listening to particular sounds or watching certain actions. Studies have shown ASMR triggers a state of euphoric relaxation which increases comfort and can help induce deep sleep.”
9. Qigong meditation for sleep
If you're wondering how to get back to sleep when you wake up in the middle of the night, Qigong meditation could be the answer.
“It can actually have serious benefits to your health, as well as your sleep,” says Kev. “Qigong is an alternative form of medicine used to promote the movement of energy in a person’s body and heal a person’s energy field. It has been used for millennia to reduce stress, encourage relaxation and promote better sleep.”
With a combination of breathing and movement, this technique will get you out of bed and moving your body in a way that stills your mind. Here, Kev tells us how to do this mindful practice.
How to do Qigong meditation:
- Get out of bed and stand tall.
- Stand upright with feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent slightly.
- Focus on rhythmic breathing.
- Raise arms parallel to the ground with palms facing down.
- Allow all parts of the body to relax while continuing to breathe with eyes closed and face relaxed.
- Stay like this for a few minutes until you feel relaxed.
10. Eye exercises for sleep
Just like the muscles in the rest of your body, working out the muscles around your eyes can help tire them out and aid sleep, especially if you've spent all day looking at a computer screen.
There are lots of different eye exercises you can do for eye strain. Author and hypnotherapist Ailsa Frank (opens in new tab) shares with us one of her top techniques. “This technique relaxes you and tires your eyelids,” Ailsa adds.
How to do eye exercises for sleep:
- Lie comfortably in the dark with your eyes open.
- Begin counting backward from 300 in your mind.
- Slowly count the numbers, until you feel you can't keep your eyes open any longer.
- Then blink rapidly, as fast as you can for 30 seconds, or until your eyelids begin to feel heavy.
- When you can’t blink your eyes anymore, close them.
- Feel yourself let go as you sink into the bed beneath you and drift off to sleep.
11. Yoda nidra
“Yoga nidra calms the nervous system, balancing our parasympathetic (rest and digest) and sympathetic (fight and flight) systems helping to calm the body and reduce stress and anxiety,” says yoga instructor Hannah Barrett (opens in new tab). It's a great bedtime yoga practice as it relieves tension in the mind and body, preparing you for a deep and restful slumber.
How to practice yoga nidra:
- Lie in bed on your back in a savasana yoga pose.
- For extra comfort, place a blanket on top of you, put on an eye mask, or prop up a cushion under your knees.
- Relax your body. Ensure you're comfortable and ready for sleep.
- Listen to the short yoga nidra meditation above with your eyes closed.
- If your mind wanders as you listen, just bring your attention back to the voice.
- Allow yourself to fall asleep if it feels right.
How to fall asleep in 5 minutes
Learning how to fall asleep fast, in no more than five minutes, requires a combination of quick fixes to ensure that you have a suitable sleep environment and a good practice of breathing meditations. These work as they control your breathing, causing the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol to drop, which deactivates the stress cycle and calms both body and mind.
“Breathing techniques can help release deep emotional blockages,” says breath coach Stuart Sandeman, founder of Breathpod (opens in new tab). “It can give you a stronger connection to self, deeper relaxation, and clear any feelings of lack and limitation. This technique will help to slow the mind so that you can nod off to sleep.”
If you have time, listen to sleep-guided meditations before bed or try these simple techniques to relax your body and mind and have you falling asleep before midnight.
Breathing meditation for sleep
4-7-8 breathing technique
- Inhale through the nose for a count of four.
- Hold breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale through pursed lips for a count of eight.
- Repeat four rounds.
The military technique
- Get into a comfortable position.
- Relax your face.
- Drop your shoulders.
- Let your body go limp.
- Clear your mind for 10 seconds.
- Take a deep breath and repeat.
When to get out of bed if you can't sleep
Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade and admit that your sleeping schedule is going to be off tonight. If this is the case, it’s best to get out of bed and do something else.
“If you can't sleep after 15 to 20 minutes, apply the quarter of an hour rule,” says Brendan Street, Nuffield Health (opens in new tab)’s professional head of emotional wellbeing. “Get up, get out of bed and go to a different room and do something that's not stimulating for 20 to 30 minutes."
This could be reading a book, journaling, or listening to relaxing music. "Then return to bed. If you are still unable to get to sleep after 20 to 30 minutes, get up again. Repeat until you sleep," Brendan suggests.
It might seem counterproductive but it will help in the longer term. “This is hard but necessary,” says Brendan. “If you lie in bed unable to sleep for long periods you start to associate your bed with wakefulness and maybe agitation.”
Failing that, it might be time to consider a longer-term plan of CBD for sleep, investing in a good sleep tea or taking sleep supplements (opens in new tab) over a few weeks. Unlike prescribed sleeping pills, these products are made from herbal or natural ingredients that promote sleep—such as valerian root, tryptophan and even melatonin itself.
If you are experiencing long-term sleep issues such as insomnia, always seek advice from a medical professional to find the best solution.
Ciara was the former digital health editor at womanandhome.com, covering all things health & wellbeing from fitness to sleep to relationships. She's always on the lookout for new health trends, innovative fitness gadgets and must-read wellness books.
Originally from Ireland, Ciara moved to London to study journalism. After graduation, Ciara started her career at Goodhousekeeping.com. Ciara qualified as a meditation teacher with the British School of Meditation in 2020, and outside of her day-to-day now runs her own meditation school called Finding Quiet. She is all about bettering that mind-body connection but believes wellness looks different to everyone.